Love Affair With Trees (and Fetuses)

It was time, he explained, as he brought his business card to the door to warn us of the coming work in close proximity to our home. Cavities developing, branches dead, dying, and falling down meant that proper action was required for the sake of the tree and the people and homes nearby. Knowing it would soon disappear, I managed to remember to capture some images of the beautiful maple beforehand.
Plot maps show that we are not the  “owners” of the tree, though it is much closer to our home than our neighbor’s. Because of that, I always considered it ours. I didn’t realize how attached to it I was until the warning came of its removal, and I began to go about my days wondering how the whole landscape and the view from several of my windows would be radically altered. I loved seeing how it would change dramatically throughout the seasons through this window at the top of our staircase ~ a first glimpse of the day upon waking and heading downstairs to make the morning pot of tea in the kitchen where the maple greets us again through the side window. She felt like a familiar friend.  (We first met in 2002 when Robert discovered this little gem of a house for our family.)
But the workweek arrived and the progress was swift. Jamie, the foreman, saw me watching from the backyard and came over to talk.  He took me to the tree and explained exactly why she needed to go, pointed out the poison oak that was making its way up her trunk, and assured me that all roots and divots in our yard would be smoothed out and covered over. Delighting in his unusual kindness, compassion, and thoroughness, I felt the freedom to ask if Kayla and I could count the rings when they got to the trunk. 
“Of course,” was his reply. “We always count the rings for our records, and I would guess that this one is about 130-140 years old.”

We were captivated by the whole process, and found it difficult to stay on the normal tasks of our day. The chainsaws were loud (and sometimes got stuck!), the whole house shook each time a branch came down, and the chipper roared all day long chewing up leaves and smaller branches.

There were often men on our roof, and a bucket truck sent different workers hovering high and low all over our yard and right within our view.  Talk about distraction.  I suppose we could have packed up and done our schoolwork elsewhere ~ Barnes and Noble is a favorite locale ~ but it seemed we ought to stay put just in case. Plus, it was an education in and of itself.

On the same day the tree work began, I left the house early for my morning run. Walking past my other neighbor’s house ~ the one on the opposite side of the tree work, I caught a glimpse of her newest bumper sticker. Bumper stickers are an interesting and entertaining way to get a pulse on the culture of our town and region. Mocking the Christian Ichthus symbol, Darwin fish (with feet) abound, “My Other Car is a Broom”, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Republican”, and “Eat More Kale” are seen fairly often, and my favorite: “Get Real: As If Jesus Would Have Ever Owned a Gun and Voted Republican.”  Some of these seem quite incompatible with the other prominent bumper stickers: “Coexist” and “Teach Tolerance.”

My neighbor’s new bumper sticker says this: “Wendy Davis for Texas State Governor 2014”

(Remember now, I live in Massachusetts. We’re 2000 miles away from the Lone Star State.)

Bumper stickers and trees may also seem like incompatible issues for a blog post, but the two events happening on either side of my house this week got me thinking.  At one neighbor’s house, a statement about stewarding well the earth and nature, albeit it through the necessary removal of a beautiful creation.  At the other neighbor’s house another blatant (to those in the know) statement about “stewardship” through the removal of a beautiful creation.  Yes, both of the issues involve the choice to remove life.  It’s just that the former brings renewed life, sustained life, protection of life and the latter only ushers in several forms of death.

Wendy Davis made herself a national hero (to some) when she filibustered for hours recently to prevent the vote on a measure that would ban abortions in Texas after 20 weeks.

For many, the removal of a fetus is no different from the removal of a tree ~ a necessary and prudent choice. Both may be stricken with disease or deformity.  Death may be inevitable for each. Ending their lives may seem an act of kindness. Both may prove to be an enormous inconvenience someday, therefore early intervention and prevention seems wise.
Though they sound like such similar predicaments, they are vastly different in God’s eyes.  In fact, one is not really a predicament at all ~ though it may seem like it at the time.
As Christians, the first task given to us by God is stewardship of the earth. The animals, the birds, the trees and other vegetation, the rivers, streams, and oceans ~ they are all ours to rule over, to subdue, and to make productive.  The removal of a dying tree falls within godly stewardship of the created world.  
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 
Genesis 1:28
The same rule, however, does not apply to human life.
You shall not murder.
Exodus 20:13
And even before we see it clearly in the Ten Commandments, we see it inherently after the creation mandate in Genesis after Cain murders his own brother Abel.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he said “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”  He said, “What have you done?” The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.
Genesis 4: 9-10
No, we don’t have authority over the life or death of another human. God alone has that authority. Psalm 139 portrays well the preciousness of what is going on in the womb.
For You formed me in my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.  I will give thanks to You,  for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
Psalm 139: 13-16
What is foolishly believed by my neighbor and all of Ms. Davis’s platform supporters is that the right to end life will bring about true freedom and that this unqualified freedom is what is best for the women of our country.  The strange thing is that we constantly limit “freedom” in this country for the sake of ourselves and our fellow countrymen. Our laws mandate that we not steal, speed, use or sell drugs, kill (those outside the womb), or trespass. Even smoking is now a severely limited freedom in this country. But to tell a woman what she can and can’t do with her uterus ~ a thing that is actually quite risky, and harmful to herself physically and emotionally, not to mention the other human involved ~ is, oddly enough, a highly disdained position.
I’m pretty sure my neighbor is not genuinely concerned about the welfare of the state of Texas, and I think she’s sadly mistaken regarding the welfare of the women and potential children of our country.
It’s so very disheartening to me and a tragic sign of things to come that a majority of folks grieve the one (the loss of the tree) and celebrate the other (the loss of human life).
On Wednesday, when the final cut was made, there was a crowd in my driveway and traffic slowed on our busy downtown thoroughfare. One couple parked, got out, and took pictures.  They requested a sliver of the trunk to show in their classrooms. Everyone wanted to marvel at the majestic life that had once been displayed in that tree. Several of us even gathered around, counted the rings, and celebrated the historical epoch the tree had witnessed in its 120 years.  It was a proper tribute, a godly recognition of the natural world given to us by a loving Creator.
The aborted fetus gets no such fanfare. (And it probably shouldn’t in this situation.) Though its life is quite short by comparison, its mutilated parts, in most cases, are quickly and mindlessly discarded. There is no celebration of the majestic and miraculous work which was in progress. Rather, the rejoicing is regarding the life that will never be, and the “freedom” the other seems guaranteed now that it’s gone.
Most of the women I know (and I need two hands to count them) who’ve chosen to end their baby’s life in utero are not celebrating, though.  They are grieving. Some decades after the fact. Oh, they know they are forgiven, that “therefore, there is now no condemnation”, but the ache remains. They would certainly never recommend their choice to another.  In fact, one of those friends recently took in a young, single pregnant woman, shared her own experience, and took her in for a heartbeat and ultrasound appointment. The young woman made the decision to keep her baby. We all rejoiced and plans were made for her care and support in the process.
Not all women’s hearts are aching though, and while that fact may be used as evidence in favor of the “right to choose,” I wonder if it’s an even more serious consequence in the form of a numbed and hardened heart. If lawmakers think this is a favorable condition for the females of our country, they are greatly underestimating the power in the tender strength of the feminine heart.  Protecting that natural resource would be to their advantage in my opinion.
The trees are lovely to be sure.  Women and children are lovelier. We were completely mesmerized with the process of removing the beautiful tree next door.  I just wish we were as concerned with the removal of children from this world and women’s hearts in the process.

Church and Brunch and Love and Lunch

 It was a good thing both Kayla and Cooper had a full day of plans for Saturday, though we could have used their help, I suppose. Cooper went to Springfield to help out with Club Hope which is an outreach ministry to homeless kids and their families.  Coop’s friend Cameron and his family started the ministry within the last year.  Coop loves helping out with the kids, riding in the vans and playing basketball with them.  He always comes home with cute and sometimes sad stories.

Kayla enjoyed her day in Salem, MA, though I’m not sure how much actual history she absorbed.  The reports I got were that the teen girls spent most of the day singing Frozen songs and Christmas carols at the tops of their lungs all the way through town. Some of the chaperones reportedly thanked God that they had only given birth to boys…

And another (ahem, male) chaperone told the kids that the red line that tours you through Salem was painted
with the blood of those found guilty of witchcraft.

So, while my kids were away with other parents and families, Robert and I got to work preparing for the church brunch and lunch that would be on Sunday.  We spent the morning setting up chairs and tables in the church basement “cafe”, and I even let him help me with the table coverings…a bit.  They were brown butcher paper decorated with words to worship songs written in black Sharpies. (Thank you, Pinterest!) One border needed polka dots, so I let him fill them in. Mike, a college student who was helping us, offered to write on some of the coverings, but I was mean and controlling and refused to let him “help” with that.  I was probably underestimating his poster-sized penmanship and lettering skills, but I happen to have a lot of experience with this from my football-run-through-making days.

Rachel, Isabelle, and Molly putting it all together!

After all the chairs and tables and table coverings were finished, Robert and I went to Whole Foods for a quick lunch outside at a sunny picnic table. Then he went home to polish and practice his sermon, and I took off grocery shopping, which really didn’t need to take the four or so hours that it did, but I was also on the hunt for new coffee urns/percolators for church.  Would you believe that Target and WalMart had none?  Millions of Keurigs, no coffee percolators.  I finally made my way to Bed, Bath, and Beyooooooooonnnnnnd (as Tim Hawkins would say), and they had ONE variety, so I bought two.

 I spent the rest of the evening cooking a couple of things that would keep well overnight ~ muffins mostly.  Robert even got in on the action by browning all of the sausage for me.  (Isn’t that what ALL pastors do on Saturday night?)  A breakfast taco bar with some side dishes was the plan.  Here’s what was on the buffet:

Scrambled eggs
Ground, browned pork sausage
Black beans
Cheese, salsa, sour cream
Blueberry Croissant Puffs (reg. and GF) with Blueberry Syrup
Pumkin “Doughnut” Muffins (reg. and G/D free)
Vanilla yogurt with granola (reg. and GF)
Hot Apple Cider
Hot Tea
Orange Juice
We were at church by 8am the next morning. While Molly and I worked on the brunch which would be at 10:30am, Isabelle, Rachel, and a few others worked on the lunch which would be at 12:30pm.  It was crazy in the kitchen AND it was raining outside, which meant that the lunch, which was originally planned for outdoors, had to be moved inside.  We hoped two hours would be enough turn-around time to accommodate both crowds, and it ended up working out fine.

 Here’s what was on the lunch buffet planned and executed by Isabelle, Austin, and Lois:

Cold Cuts & Sliced Cheese for Sandwiches
Mustard & Mayo
Lettuce, Tomato, and Pickles
Salads of several Varieties
Pastries, Quick Breads, and Muffins for Dessert
Hot Apple Cider
It was so delicious ~ perfectly fresh and satisfying meal! Yum.
The reason I added “love” to the title of this post is because BOTH of the couples above met as college students and married in our church ~ well, not the actual building, but you get the idea.  Dan and Sarah are old fogies with kids now ~ after meeting as UMass students and through work WAY back in the day.  Dan is a daddy, a high school teacher and now an elder on our Lead Team and Sarah is mommy, elementary school teacher and childcare organizer extraordinaire. The couple in the middle, Austin and Isabelle, who are now our church interns, actually met AT the church lunch cookout two years ago.  We like to play up the fact that you just might meet your future mate at the church “brunch and lunch.” Haha!
Austin and Isabelle’s wedding rehearsal this summer.

Katie and Ian, below, with baby Tristan and baby-girl-on-the-way met in the UMass marching band, were each baptized in our church and then married by Robert a few years ago (during the Summer of TEN WEDDINGS!).  Ian is a fabulous tutor, writer, preacher/teacher and business meeting moderator, and Katie is a fantastic mommy and childcare volunteer who has also been a great small group leader and member in the past.

Lois, on the far left, has been with on staff at our church for 14 years now (and we’ve known her for many more than that!), and Cindy has been with us almost that long as our worship leader. Cindy and her husband, Ben, are expecting a baby boy this winter as well.

 The photo above includes an Amherst College student, an adoptive and Young Life Mom, and a table full of “Smithies” ~ girls who attend Smith College, an all women’s college in nearby Northampton, and below is a table full of “Mohos” ~ ladies who attend the other all-women’s college in our area, Mt. Holyoke.  Being a Christian on those campuses is NOT a favorable identity or an easy path (though “tolerance and diversity” remains the mantra), and so we love it when we can pour into their lives (and tummies) and encourage them in their faith.  They are always an incredibly strong and and sincere bunch.

 Cooper spent the night with Cameron after Club Hope, but he made it back in time for brunch, second service, AND lunch.  Kayla helped me in the kitchen all morning ~ and with the cleaning all afternoon!

Mostly a UMass crowd in this pic!

It was a great day.  I love to feed people and watch them laughing and enjoying fellowship over a meal. I also may have gotten into a cleaning frenzy after all the meal was over, which often happens when I work in the church kitchen which has a strong tendency to get very gross very quickly. But shiny, cleared off counters make me happy, too, so yes, a great day.

Kayla was more than ready to go home, and we finally did around 3pm.  Robert had many hours to go, though.  His men’s boot camp started up at 4pm and then he had a sermon debrief gathering at 7pm. He texted me at 8:30 pm and asked me to come pick him up at church, since we’d left him with no car. I had just changed into pajamas, put my feet up, and cracked my seminary books open to study for a quiz due Monday morning. Thankfully it was dark outside, because I just slipped on Kayla’s flip flops and left the house dressed for bed. 
Once home, we just gave up and got in bed ~ bodies exhausted, but hearts encouraged by a full yet wonderful weekend.  Hope yours was great, too!

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday: Kale Avocado Salad (A brunch and providential produce, too)

Happy Friday!

It’s beautiful here today, and as much as I dread the coming cold, it is nice to have a bit of a break from the humidity. Feels like you can breathe again. My fall wreath is now hung on the front door, which usually doesn’t happen until October, and I’m mentally planning a future weekend outing for apple picking.  This yearly tradition always sneaks up on me.

We probably won’t get around to it tomorrow, because Kayla will be off on a field trip to Salem to tour the Custom House (she recently trudged through that prologue to The Scarlet Letter), see the homes of Nathaniel Bowditch AND Nathaniel Hawthorne, follow a walking tour of Salem, visit the Witch House, and possibly end the day walking around historic Rockport.  I’ve been to the House of Seven Gables before, but I’m jealous of all the other things she’ll get to do tomorrow with homeschool friends.

I’m excited, though, for how I’ll be spending my day tomorrow.  It will involve shopping for groceries, cooking, baking, and setting up for a brunch at church on Sunday.  I spent time planning the menu and decor yesterday with some help from Pinterest, and maybe I’ll take pictures and tell you about it next week.  Our church always does a “Back to School” or “Fall” cookout after the 11:15am service on one of the first Sundays of the school year, but the 9:15am service folks always miss out on this event.  This year, Robert wanted the early service people to have their own special lunch ~ or brunch, in this case, so he asked if I’d be willing to take it on.

I actually love doing things like this.  Oh, there’s never really time for it (homeschooling, housekeeping, seminary, small groups, coffee dates…), and I do get tired of cooking (my family wants a meal EVERY SINGLE night!), but I also love creating something special for a church event ~ or houseguests or birthdays, etc. It makes me happy to create a meal and space where people feel comfortable and indulged in something beyond the usual fare.

Okay ~ well, maybe I’ll tell you more next week when it’s all over. For now you could pray that people WILL be blessed by the meals provided on Sunday and delight in the grace of sweet fellowship.  Good weather would be wonderful, too ~ as the later cookout/picnic is always held outside.

Here’s a recipe that I’ve made several times since the spring. It was originally inspired by a salad I get at Whole Foods on occasion and also influenced by one in the Elana’s Pantry cookbook I’ve mentioned before.  It does require a tolerance for kale ~ even raw,  “massaged” kale ~ but it’s a really tasty way to get this super-food into your diet.  I think it’s so strange that the grocery store which is almost literally next door to my house (I’ve walked there at least twice this week) carries kale all the way from Texas.  We are surrounded ~ again, literally ~ by local organic farms that have an abundance of kale.  The farmer’s market is brimming with several different varieties.

The “Go Texan” twist-tie on my Massachusetts kale is interpreted by me as a little “wink” from God, which you may think is reading way too much into a twist-tie, but that’s okay. I don’t mind being thought silly for believing that God is capable of revealing His love for me and my plight of being an alien in a foreign land through my leafy greens.  He has the hairs of my head all numbered, so there’s no doubt He can guide the produce buyer’s hand at Big Y on my behalf. 😉

Here’s the Texas/Massachusetts recipe:

Kale Avocado Salad

1 med. bunch kale, washed, de-veined, torn in small pieces
1 ripe avocado
1/2 – 1 red bell pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp orange juice (fresh or from a carton)
2 tsp honey (Optional ~ the orange juice sweetens it quite a bit!)
salt and pepper to taste

Place washed and torn kale into a medium sized bowl. Pour olive oil and orange juice over the kale and massage it with your clean hands until the kale is thoroughly coated and softened a bit.  Let sit for 10-20 minutes while prepping the rest of the ingredients.

Depending on how much you desire, cut red bell pepper into medium diced pieces. Add to kale mixture and massage a bit more.

Peel and chop the avocado.  Add the pieces to the kale and massage until the chunks of avocado are mashed up and coating all of the salad.  Leaving some of the avocado chunks intact is okay, too!

Add salt, pepper and honey and toss to coat.

Enjoy and have a great weekend!  I’ll be making another version of this salad for the brunch that involves chicken, wild rice, apples, and cranberries.  Can’t wait to try it!

A Poem and a Latte Help, I Guess.

 It’s already happening. I couldn’t wear shorts on my run this morning and had to pull out the long-sleeved t-shirts as well  Next thing you know ~ probably tomorrow morning by the looks of it ~ I’ll be wearing mittens on my morning runs.  Mitten day is always a sad day, because it ominously marks the beginning of what is really almost 9 months of winter in my opinion.

While working on her algebra this morning, Kayla complained of being cold.  Though I felt her pain, I had to tell her to get a blanket and put on some socks and a hoodie, because we are certainly not turning on the heat mid-September.

Oh, I love fall and colorful foliage and pumpkins and fire pit gatherings, but if my fellow New Englanders are honest at all, they will admit that summer really only started two weeks ago.  I was wearing my hoodie on the beach in August remember?  It’s just not fair.  Why does summer have to be the shortest season of all?

I spent all last week learning about “natural revelation” or “general revelation” which is regarding how God reveals Himself in nature and its beauty, seasons, and patterns.  That the fall season arrives every year without fail is understood to be a witness to the covenant faithfulness of God. That the sun “rises” every morning a sign of His goodness, His provision.

“If this fixed order departs from before Me, declares the Lord, Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.”
Jeremiah 31:36

“Thus says the Lord, “If you can break my covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne…”
Jeremiah 33:20

I suppose I should be worshiping when I have to put on extra layers, but I am whining instead.
I received a letter from Lars last week in which he described a tree just outside their picture window and overlooking the Cape Ann Atlantic. Apparently this tree, with its reliable-weather-predicting abilities via its early or late leaf-turning, has declared with undeniable evidence that we’re in for a very long and harsh winter. Evidently, the tree has never been wrong.  I really hope it’s a fluke this year.
One person in my house is giddy over the change in season, though.  It’s the same person who needed to bundle up to do her algebra.  In her excitement and celebration of all things fall, she typed a poem about it. (She’s aware of her misspellings and mistakes, and didn’t want me to post it in this form, but I just love the typed words on her “typewriter” paper.)
When she wasn’t writing poetry, she was researching recipes for dairy free “pumpkin spice lattes” (her doctor asked her to eliminate lactose for a while), and spending time in the kitchen creating them. She shared the final product with me while I studied.  It was almost “paleo” but contained quite a bit of sugar.  This one is made with coconut milk (she actually used coconut cream!) and real pumpkin.  We even own a little hand held “frother” now, so our homemade drinks can look and taste extra official.  It was super-yummy, and I’ll request honey to sweeten next time!
There really are so many things to love about fall, and I am thankful to live in a part of the country famous for its autumn majesty, but today I am grieving the end of the short-lived days of warmth.  And if the predictions are correct, (because Lars’ tree isn’t the only one) I’m also grieving the impending harshness of the coming winter.
Good bye summer. See you next August. Maybe.

Delicious Words & Tears

Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts. 
Jeremiah 15:16
He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.” Then I ate it, and it was a sweet as honey in my mouth.”
Ezekiel 3:3
Eating God’s Word?  I came across both of these verses in the last year during my read-through-the- Bible endeavor (which has taken me much more than a year!), and they struck me as a powerful image regarding the delicious nourishment of the Bible.  I mentioned the verses to the women of my church on our winter retreat, the theme of which was The Word.  Consume and be well fed by the delicious Word of God.  Nothing is as sweet.  Nothing else can satisfy.  We have food others know not of.
Then, as the Lord seems to always work in themes in my life, I picked up this book recently and unknowingly. I thought a good missionary story would be the perfect way to start the homeschool morning with Kayla this year.

I can’t remember why I even had this book on the shelf, but I think I must have purchased it years ago when I thought it would fit with a world history and geography class we were doing with other local homeschoolers.  We never ended up using it, but I re-discovered it this summer while clearing closets and shelves and making trips to Good Will.

My kids will tell you that I have been dissolved to tears numerous times during “read-aloud” time, (Bronze Bow, anyone? Pilgrim’s Progress? Sigh…) but I really didn’t see it coming this time.

In Search of the Source is about Wycliffe (Bible translators) missionaries in Papua New Guinea. This husband and wife team, along with their small children lived in the jungle among the Folopa people, a tribe with an unwritten language and a previous cannibalistic revenge culture.  The book recounts some of the breakthroughs they had in acquiring the proper translations for certain Bible words, phrases, and stories.  The language acquisition stories and the details of the intimate translation in cooperation with a few of the Folopa men are really fascinating, and the stories of eating jumbo beetles (they “pop” when rolled above the fire flames) and grub worms (stuffed in bamboo and roasted to make a “meat stick”) and going on bat hunts through caves in waist deep water (a river where the dead were once buried) add even more excitement.

They began translation work with Genesis 1 and had difficulty right away with the word “created.”  Then, in Genesis 2, the Folopa men were greatly humbled when they discovered that the women they thought must be a completely different species from them, made only for work and babies, were actually made from their very own flesh.  But is was the translation of Genesis 37-45 that really made a significant impact, as the Hebrew culture of the “favorite son” and the resulting sibling rivalry mirrors their own. They were completely mesmerized by the story.

The missionary wife typed furiously as the translation of the Joseph story was being spoken, and as the words individually appeared on the typewritten page, the men came in closer and closer, watching and reading, refusing to take a break for tea and toast.  When the page was finished, one of the Folopa men took it, put his hand to his throat (a gesture of great seriousness) and said this:

“We are dying of the deliciousness of these words.”

I couldn’t even finish reading that line, because the tears started rolling.  The power and sweetness of God’s Word.  The emotion of reading about another culture’s first response to that beautiful Word.  It was too much to take in.

And the story of Joseph began to not only resonate with their own cultural experience, but also tie in with another story they knew about another Son. The same man who held the typewritten page began to speak again…

” ‘The brother whom they had most greatly offended,’ he said, ‘was in the end the one who had the most power to destroy them.  Yet he passed it over. Instead he became the one who rescued them.’ “

In their revenge culture, this was incredulous, scandalous even, and therefore very powerful. Many had already responded in faith to the message, a message of grace and forgiveness rather than a deserved revenge killing.

So, big tears over written words during read-aloud time again. Nothing new for my homeschool pupils.  I guess the tears are really over the Word who became flesh for me.

He is beautiful. His Word is sweet.

(Jack and Kelly ~ maybe this could be your next read-aloud?)

Weekend, Wedding, Worship, Quiz & Woes

Coop, Curtis, and A Photobombing Friend in Boston

 It was a very late night for a Monday, but it was worth it. Robert had to be in Boston for a North American Mission Board (NAMB) event, an it was one I didn’t want the kids to miss.  Truthfully, I didn’t want to miss it either, and I almost never pass up an opportunity to go into Boston.  We picked up our friend, Kama, and headed east around 3pm yesterday after a stop at Dunkin Donuts to get drinks for the road. I even got a very long shoulder massage as we drove. Ahhhhh….it was wonderful. Thank you, Kama.

We parked, walked through the Common, and along the Freedom Trail a bit until we got to Chipotle for a quick dinner.  The event was at the Tremont Temple, which we had to pass on the way to dinner, so it was an easy walk back.  A very long line awaited us, but it moved quickly and was full of friends from near and far.  The whole event was like a mini-reunion which made it all the more fun.

(A passing Bostonite asked me what the long line was about, but upon hearing that we were waiting to hear a pastor speak at a worship service, he moved on pretty quickly.)

The event was part of a tour for Send North America (SNA) ~ a NAMB effort to exhort believers to share the gospel in their individual lives and vocations, and plant churches in their various cities and towns.  The Passion City Band led worship through music and David Platt led worship through a great teaching and encouragement time from the book of Acts ~ ordinary people doing extraordinary things because of an extraordinary God.

It was great.  I’m so glad we didn’t miss it. I’m so glad my kids got to experience it.  It was especially encouraging to see each of them, without prompting, give of their own money (well, one regretted forgetting theirs in the van, so we helped out) toward the mission.

And I got to see Rachel ~ a recent graduate from UMass who is now involved in a Boston church plant ~ along with many other dear friends.  Such a wonderful surprise.

Going to Boston on a Monday night was also kinda crazy after the weekend we had. Robert accuses me of filling up all “free” time with activities, and that when I suddenly find myself without an obligation, I simply add a new one. Our weekend was packed, and any normal person would not have planned a trip to Boston on Monday (that they weren’t required to take), according to him.  Maybe this is why my kids seem to be entertainment and adrenaline junkies.  If a day or two day passes without anything fun or exciting happening (according to their standards for such), they sink into a sort of depression. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, they were lamenting that if someone were to make a movie about their lives, it would be oh so boring.  I really don’t think they got this from me, and though my husband would probably balk at me saying this, I LONG for boring and uneventful days.  They just never happen, but he seems to think that’s my own fault.
(But it’s David Platt…and the Passion Band…and Boston…and a gathering of Christians…many of whom we know and love…and when will the kids ever have this opportunity again…and it’s so good for them to be a part of in their teen years….and…and…and…)
(Hmmmmm…maybe it is all my fault.)
(We got in bed at 1:30am.)
Anyway, the weekend was crazy. Saturday, I went on a run, caught up on a bit of studying in the morning, had a phone date with a friend from Oklahoma midday, and then had to get ready for the wedding of this cute couple…
The wedding was at 5pm and it was an outdoor ceremony and potluck dinner, which meant preparations needed to start around 1:30pm.  We finally made it out the door at 4pm in our wedding attire, carrying our Thai Chicken Skewers, and began the 45 minute drive.  To make a very long story short, we got very lost, got caught in a severe thunderstorm, arrived at the wedding site at 5:45pm, sat in the truck for 20 minutes (50 yards from the ceremony) waiting for the thunder, lightning, and heavy rain to stop, almost decided to just drive home, finally decided to venture out, heard the minister say “I now pronounce you…” as we approached the tent, jumped out of our skin at the thunderclap that immediately followed, deposited our food on the buffet table, and found a seat under the tent held up by huge metal (lightning) rods. It’s a wonder anyone survived this treacherous evening.
Not only did we survive, but we had a great time seeing friends from all over Massachusetts (lots of worlds collided at this wedding), and thoroughly enjoyed seeing Tommy and Kaitlyn in their first moments together as a married couple.  The best part of the whole thing was the groom’s speech (“rebuttal” to the toasts) in which he gave all honor to Christ, and shared the gospel with everyone there.
Once home, the thunderstorms had reached our own town.  Robert still needed to practice/preach through his sermon, I had much more studying to do, and the next morning would be the Sunday which is always the “biggest” day of our year with the return of students to the area.

It was a great morning of meeting tons of new people, singing, and hearing the gospel proclaimed from the first chapter of Jonah ~ the new sermons series of the semester.

We had a houseful of people over afterward for lunch, which morphed into meetings for upcoming small groups, which morphed into the making of videos to promote the men’s and women’s small groups.  Molly and I made our debut here as future reporters on all things discipleship. We were both horrified at the idea, but managed to pull this off in about 10 minutes. (We couldn’t be outdone by the men’s group.) Retakes were done when certain teenagers decided to run in a circle around behind us. 
By the time the last person left the house on Sunday afternoon, we were already an hour and a half late to the next event ~ a birthday/memorial party for our friend, Josh, who would have turned 33 that day.  We miss him and it was nice to see others that do, too.
Robert dropped me off at home and was back up at the church for a 7pm meeting/sermon debrief, and I finished cleaning up the leftover dishes from lunch. It was 9:30 before I finished all the tasks that needed to be taken care of at home, but I tried to read a bit more in preparation for my quiz which had to be taken before 12 noon yesterday.  I had to get up very early to finish reading and studying, since we also needed to get an early start with homeschool work that morning in order to make the Boston trip.
It was Quiz #3.  Quizzes #1 and #2 both had problems, so everyone was given a 90%. This one happened to be over general or natural revelation (God’s creation) versus specific revelation (God’s Word), and the various views on natural revelation throughout church history. It was really interesting, and the Lord helped me to make 100% on the quiz. I could hardly believe it. Nine more quizzes to go and they are 25% of my final grade.
And now I’m blogging instead of studying, and it’s Tuesday, and I’m tired, and the Monday at noon deadline is already coming too quickly, and I haven’t purchased any groceries for the week. I have had an near emotional breakdown this morning, however, over an outline of the U.S. Constitution, and proper bibliography form for research papers that were due today for one child.
Oh, and I also shattered the platter upon which I was inverting a recently baked (7am grocery store trip/8am in the oven) cake for one of Kayla’s friend’s birthday’s today, which also rendered the beautiful, chocolate, gluten free ($$) cake inedible, because we didn’t want to lacerate anyone’s throat with sharp ceramic chards.  This meant another trip to the grocery store for a store-bought cake and all of the accompaniments.
So, I have accomplished some things today, just not in the direction of anything very productive.  So, now I just want to sit in my room and cry. (I was kind of attached to that platter.  Used it constantly.)
Maybe that 1:30am bedtime wasn’t such a good idea after all…
(It really was, but I’m going to need a day of recovery, I think. And maybe another massage.)

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday: Fajitas & Sprouted Black Beans

 It all started when I got an invitation to sign up to take a meal to a young couple who just had their first baby.  Actually, this happens on a very regular basis at church these days.  We’re definitely having a baby boom there.  Thanks to another mom’s discovery, we use an internet based sign-up for this “meal ministry” called Take Them a Meal. It is a wonderful resource and very easy to use.  You can see every date for which a meal is needed, and as people sign up, they list what they will be bringing for everyone to see. That way the poor new parents don’t have lasagne and salad every other night for a month!

I’m always stumped as to what to make and take to the next new set of parents, but for some reason fajitas sounded like the thing to deliver this time.  Maybe because the new mommy actually transferred from Baylor University to UMass after she got married a year and a half ago, having married a young man from this area, and I thought she might like a little bit of Tex-Mex?  I don’t know.  She’s actually from Missouri, not Texas, but she did love her time at Baylor.  Or maybe it was that whatever I made for them, I would also be making for our family’s meal that night, and everyone’s always up for fajitas around here.

 Typically, you make fajitas with skirt steak, but you’d be hard pressed to find this in any local grocery store in these parts.  I’m sure dedicated butchers and meat markets might carry it, but I’ve never seen it in my local store.  What I have been seeing a lot of lately is sirloin tips.  They are usually pretty expensive, but they’ve been on sale in recent weeks, and they are delicious, as you can imagine ~ unless you are a vegetarian, of course.  I made beef tips and gravy with them two weeks ago for an after-church lunch here at the house, we grilled them last week for dinner along with sweet potatoes and sumer squash, and this week I decided to use them for fajitas. They turned out really delicious, and mostly due to the expert grilling of my husband.

 The Paleo Diet does not recommend eating legumes partly due to their nutrient diminishing tendencies.  They contain phytic acid which makes them difficult to digest, and also pulls vitamins and minerals from the body in the process.  I happen to love all kinds of beans, though, especially with Mexican food, so soaking and sprouting them has been our cheat/compromise.  Before beginning the Paleo Diet, I was greatly influenced by the research of the late dentist Weston A. Price as well as the cookbook his discoveries about nutrition inspired ~ Nourishing Traditions.  Soaking and sprouting is almost a given in the cookbook with any grain or legume.  That process allows germination to begin, which actually removes much of the phytic acid and greatly increases available nutrients.  Here’s a quote from The Vegetarian Times blog regarding this practice:

Nuts, seeds, grains, and beans are nutritional powerhouses. However, the natural agents that protect them from early germination can wreak havoc in our digestive system. Soaking and sprouting replicates germination, which activates and multiplies nutrients (particularly Vitamins A, B, and C), neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, and promotes the growth of vital digestive enzymes.

 It takes a bit of foresight and planning, but it makes eating beans much easier on the system and adds nutrients to your system, rather than depleting them. I think I was even scared to try it at first, but after just a tiny bit of research, I decided to give it a try.   It’s really so very easy, and I’ll list the steps below.

We decided to do both beef and chicken fajitas, and I used the same marinade for both.  I made sure Robert could be home before 6pm (which was the delivery time) to do the grilling, and had them all ready to go when he returned. As you can probably see from the pictures, we used about 6 chicken breasts and 6-8 strips of sirloin tips.

After grilling, we sliced them thinly and against the grain ~ longitudinally (sorry, we’re studying the explorers currently) which was a bit tricky due to the long thin strip nature of  the sirloin tips, but makes them easier to stuff a fajita taco with.

We sautéed peppers and onion in olive oil with a bit of garlic powder and salt, packaged them up along with the rest of the usual fixings ~ the sprouted and cooked beans, guacamole, salsa, chips ~ and cheese, sour cream, and flour tortillas for the non-paleo folks ~ and enjoyed making the delivery.  The best part, though, was holding the precious, now one month old little boy ~ sweetest, cutest little thing. Oh my.

The hardest part for Kayla and Cooper was waiting for us to get back, so we could eat our portion of the meal, which we finally did outside on the picnic table.  It was a really beautiful, warm evening.  There were even leftovers for lunch today.

There are so, so many recipes out there for meat rubs and marinades that are probably much better than what I’ve come up with through trial and error and simple ingredients on hand, but in case you just want something super easy and tasty, here’s what I did:

Marinade for the Beef and Chicken:

1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp McCormick Montreal Steak Grill Mates (optional, but it’s really tasty!)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

Mix dry ingredients/spices together.  Add cider vinegar and olive oil and whisk together.  Pour over chicken or beef and let sit for 1-4 hours, turning and coating sides alternatively.

Soaked and Sprouted Black Beans:

Sort and rinse 1 package of dry black beans.  Place beans in a medium-large bowl and cover with warm water for 10-12 hours.  The beans will double in size, so be sure and add plenty of water for the soaking. Drain beans, rinse, and drain again.  Leave beans in the bowl or a large jar and cover them loosely with a towel or plastic wrap ~ allowing for some air to reach the beans.  Rinse and drain every 4-6 hours until you can pry one open and see a sprout forming, or a tiny sprout emerges from one end of the bean.

For the above black beans, and probably because it was warm outside, this only took an overnight soak and sitting drained and loosely covered on the counter for most of the following day.  By 4pm, they were sprouting and ready to cook.

To cook beans, add water to about an inch above the level of the beans. Add salt to taste and a slice of bacon if you like for seasoning.  Cook over medium-high for 1.5-2 hours until beans are tender.  Add water as they cook if needed.

Sautéed Peppers and Onions:

Slice 1onion and 2 peppers into thin strips or circles.  Sauté in 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  Add salt and garlic powder to taste as they cook and soften.

Those of us following a Paleo diet here just forgo the tortilla (corn for my GF kids) and fill a bowl with onions, peppers, beans, beef, chicken, guacamole, and salsa.  Sometimes we add a bed of lettuce and tomato, too. Everyone else stuffs their tortilla with meat, guac, sour cream, cheese, salsa, and peppers/onions which they truly think is some kind of heavenly meal.  I won’t tell who it was, but one teenager ate FOUR fajita tacos last night.  Someone is going through a growth spurt ~ and I am now officially the shortest person in the family.

Enjoy ~ and have a wonderful weekend!

Full Days and Brain Breaks

A trampoline brain break
The days are so full.  Yesterday, I went for a morning run, shopped for the week’s groceries, put them all away, emptied and re-filled the dishwasher, started preparing lunch, took a shower, read a couple of chapters from a missionary novel (Papau New Guinea Folopas) and a few chapters on American history (Columbus, Pizarro, de Leon) with Kayla, soaked some beans for a future meal, returned some emails, scheduled a FedEx pick-up, put some appointments on the calendar, read the Bible and journaled, all before 11am.  
At 11am two of Kayla’s closest friends came over to work on their schoolwork together.  While they got started, I finished cooking lunch and gave Cooper the haircut he’d been requesting for days. (Robert was in line for a haircut, too, but then he opted for SuperCuts the day before, which is only a short walk from our house. I did not discourage this plan.) Then I sat down with two of the girls and tried to help them prepare for their upcoming debate on the death penalty.  We multi-tasked by watching a debate video while eating. After they started making good progress, it was time to sit with Kayla and work on her grammar lesson.  She’s begging for spelling, too, but I can not remember to whom I loaned (or gave?) my Spelling Power book.
The girls had a LOT to accomplish.  Cooper had a LOT to accomplish.  And I still had a LOT to accomplish.  I know it’s not necessarily in vogue or in line with the latest principles for time management or Stephen Covey’s “seven habits,” but for now I live and die by the checklist.  Actually, there is a new book out called The Checklist Manifesto.  We learned about it while helping Cooper through an SAT prep program.  Robert immediately downloaded it to his Kindle, read the entire thing, and now we have posted checklists (by Robert) in the bathroom for proper procedures for showering/leaving the bathroom in order, in the kitchen for washing dishes/wiping counters/loading/unloading the dishwasher, and on the back door for all the things that need to be done before leaving the house. Would you believe that they are actually quite effective ~ for the most part? So, maybe I am up with the trends after all?
I heartily encouraged some jumping, because they had been so focused
and hard at work for hours!

 This morning I went on my weekly 6am-ish run with Betsy, was home by 7:30, had a cup of tea and read my Bible ~ all the while thinking I had no outside obligations until 11:30am when I was to meet with a student for coffee.  Then I sat down with Kayla to do more reading for school, and about 15 minutes in the phone rang.  It was our dentist calling to tell me I had missed Kayla’s 9:15am appointment.  I wrote it on the calendar, and I even made note of it last night before bed, but it never made today’s checklist which only included a morning run, school, a coffee date, a gift-buying errand, and a meal delivery to a church family who just had a new baby.  Fortunately, the dentist had an opening at 11am, which then affected my coffee date, but that ended up needing to be postponed as well.

I did get several pages of my theology book read while in the waiting room though, which is great, because “seminary reading” is always making the checklist, but not always getting checked off.  And I’m learning that reading at 9pm while propped up in bed isn’t the best scenario for studying.

Last night I got in bed to read (denial), but then received a phone call from my sister which was wonderful, but required an hour and a half to catch up on all the necessary things. At 11:15pm, I slid into bed next to a sleeping husband, who had been out of town at meetings all day.  He woke up a few seconds later and said, “Let’s’ go on vacation.”  We both laughed.

No vacation in sight, but I think a trampoline brain break is definitely in order.  Or even better ~ a dinner-and-movie-out break.

We’ll put that on the checklist along with WAY overdue homeschool reports and proposals, college and job applications for Cooper, a wedding on Saturday, a fall kick-off with returning students this Sunday, the beginning of small groups, etc.

While we were running this morning, Betsy told me all that she was learning from this verse:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, of I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-29

It was so nice to be reminded that the wearisome burden of sin has been lifted by Jesus, and that we can even give Him our daily yoke of duty, finding rest, maybe not necessarily for our physical bodies, but certainly for our souls.

Praying for grace to cast my daily checklist onto Him.  I know it’s good to busy for His sake and purposes, but it’s bad to be busy in my own strength for my own purposes. Trying to learn the difference!

Shopping Carts and Scoffers

What are your pet peeves?  Seems like that’s a typical “ice-breaker” question in some settings. It’s similar to another get-to-know-you question: “What is your most embarrassing moment?”  The problem is I’ve always had trouble coming up with an answer.  But, I also have trouble coming up with answers to “What’s your favorite movie?” and “Who’s your celebrity crush?” I can honestly say I’ve never had a celebrity crush, well, except for Olivia Newton-John in my formative years, but she’s a woman, and that’s not the answer whoever asked the question was looking for.
I finally came up with an answer to “the most embarrassing moment” question though, so I pull it out whenever the need arises: “The day I ran into a cute boy in the college cafeteria with my tray of food and spilled a GIANT glass of iced tea all down the front of him.”  Yes, it was horrific, but it was also about 25 years ago. Maybe I need to take more risks or something?  Get a new embarrassing story, you know?  For now, that one will have to suffice.
I have, however, identified my two biggest pet peeves.  Let’s see if you can guess one of them…

If you guessed “shopping carts not returned to their proper receptacle” you’d be correct.  This rampant epidemic is something I just do not understand.  Am I the only one who has had my car dinked and scratched by runaway carts?  The only one who has innocently pulled into the closest open spot in the lot only to discover there is a cart in the way?

(P.S. They are not called “shopping carts” in New England.  They are called “carriages,” but I have yet to fully assimilate.)

Anyway, it’s shocking to me that anyone who has had these encounters with shopping carts (and I’m thinking most everyone has) would then turn around and do the same to fellow shoppers.  I’ve been working on memorizing Romans. These are the last verses I mastered.

You, therefore, have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment on someone else, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgement of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you think lightly of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
Romans 2:1-4

I think they perfectly apply to this whole shopping cart situation, don’t you? You really don’t like getting crashed into by renegade carts or losing valuable spots in the lot due to poorly and selfishly (“I’ll just put it right here ~ out of the way…”) placed carts and yet SOME OF YOU PRACTICE THE SAME THING!  I pray that God will have mercy on your soul, and also that you would be granted sufficient grace to carry out the Golden Rule:

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 7:12

(You non-returning-shopping-cart-people are probably leave-all-the-clothes-I-tried-on-in-the-dressing-room folks, too, which is almost more than my hideous and blatant self-righteousness can bear.)

So, out of place shopping carts are a definite pet peeve (and hordes of hanging clothes in my dressing room, evidently), but they are second only to scoffers.

Scoff: to speak derisively; mock; jeer.

Synonyms: gibe, jeer, sneer imply behaving with scornful disapproval toward someone or about something. To scoff is to express insolent doubt or derision, openly and emphatically.  To jeer suggests expressing disapproval and scorn more loudly, coarsely, and unintelligently.

Antonyms: praise, commend, respect

(Uh oh. According to this definition, I think I may be a scoffer ~ the very thing I despise. I’m comforting myself with the fact that my scoffing his limited to the above mentioned issues and people.)

The kind of scoffing that really gets under my skin is when Christians scoff at other Christians, when members of churches scoff at issues or individuals within their own church as if they are somehow outside of that issue, or when one denomination scoffs at another.

It would be like my son Kory, attending his first Baylor football game in the newly minted, beautiful, state-of-the-art McLane stadium on Sunday against the SMU Mustangs, with all the spirit and hype of the returning champions surrounding him, but wearing another team’s colors, constantly shouting insults at the coach and the team, and making sarcastic remarks about what they could have done better on the architecturally genius new stadium.

Not a pretty sight.

Not the time for it.  Not the place. And always a way to haughtily distance yourself from the institution to which you’ve been called to invest yourself fully.

I’m writing about it, because I keep seeing it happen in social media.  In fact, just before I clicked over to write this down, I noticed this in my Facebook news feed:

Thankfully, the status includes the softer phrase “you might not hear.” Unfortunately, the title of the actual article declares harshly “you won’t hear.” In case, you are wondering, and don’t want to go and search for this article, here are the “7 Truths.”

1. Sex is a gift from God. Explore it.
2. There is more than one person out there you could marry.
3. The first year of marriage is really hard.
4. A spouse does not complete you.
5. Marry someone with similar goals, dreams, passions.
6. Marriage is not for everybody.
7. Marriage is not about you.

Perfect example of someone within the church scoffing at the church, and in a completely unjustified way, I’d say. I don’t know about your church, but mine and many others I know of discuss all seven of these “truths” on a regular basis and especially when the content of a particular passage of Scripture lends itself to such a discussion. I’m sure the author didn’t mean to exalt himself above the church, and he was only speaking for himself, I realize, but that’s exactly what he did, along with pridefully distancing himself from that irrelevant, uncool institution called The Body of Christ.

Of which we are all members. (Converted believers, that is.)

Of which we are called to love. (With unconditional commitment.)

I attended the Pastor’s Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention a while back.  It was quite encouraging and uplifting, but also challenging. Most of the chosen speakers were pastors from within the denomination who taught God’s Word with power all while challenging our particular denomination to remain faithful to a pure and faithful proclamation of the Gospel. Sadly, the final speaker, a very popular speaker and author from outside the denomination, condemned the denomination for something he wasn’t even able to articulate.  He ranted on emotionally and negatively about a “feeling” he had about our particular group, but wasn’t able to pinpoint it.  It made me angry.

Yes, we have our stereotypes and certainly our mistakes, but I wondered if he knew any of the stories of the pastors in the room ~ many of whom have served their Lord and their churches faithfully for decades. I knew of at least a handful there who had given up everything for the sake of the Gospel and their church, remaining faithful in the midst of intense opposition and trial.  It was quite disheartening and completely uncalled for.

“Scoffing is easy from the cheap seats,” I heard Robert tell a prideful teenager one time who refused to risk embarrassment on the “ropes course” at the youth retreat, but decided to sit on the ground below and actively mock everyone who slipped or screamed.

The lyrics are not “Scoff, mock, jeer at the home team,” you know.

And fair-weather fans are a real problem.

So, my Facebook feed has included too much scoffing lately in my opinion, and too much casting of sarcastic doubt on the mission and actions of the church by those from within the church. I’ve attempted reaching out to a few in an attempt to remind them that this kind of scoffing and doubt-casting in front of the whole world only confirms what those outside the Body may have already  convinced themselves of. (And sometimes it also confirms the scoffer’s own blindness, pride, and ignorance, from which I am certainly not exempt.)

I wonder if they know we’re called to love the church above those outside the church?  It’s not cool, and it’s literally unbiblical to encourage those outside the church (and inside) in the cause of critiquing the church ~  as if you are not, by a loving, sacrificial, and expensive adoption, associated with it. I’ve certainly had to learn that for myself in these last 20+ years of church ministry. There are constructive and biblical ways of addressing heresy and conflict, but that is not one of them.

Like unreturned shopping carts, the practice is inconvenient and subversive at best, damaging and destructive at worst.

Saints loving other saints is a significant part of our witness to the world. Matthew 25: 34-40 is all about loving and serving “these brothers of mine,” says Jesus, and His needful brothers and sisters are those within the church.

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus, which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you…
Paul in Ephesians 1: 15